NYSCF–Druckenmiller Alumna Maria Themeli is Paving the Way to Democratize Access to Cancer Treatments
Maria Themeli, MD, PhD, believes that everyone, no matter their financial situation, should have access to effective cancer treatments. Because of this, she is working to make her protocol for producing CAR-T cells (altered immune cells that fight blood cancer) from stem cells freely available to the wider research and medical community.
“There are difficulties, because the pharmaceutical companies interested in the production of CAR-T cells have given very high production cost, approximately €350,000, when the production at academic level does not exceed 50,000 euros,” said Dr. Themeli, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the VUmc Cancer Center in Amsterdam and a NYSCF – Druckenmiller Fellow Alumna, in article from the The Greek Observer.
“This displeases me, as it makes treatment outside the clinical study very difficult, as the insurance funds in Europe are not willing to cover such a treatment cost,” she added.
Dr. Themeli’s lab is generating CAR-T cells from induced pluripotent stem cells. When these CAR-T cells are introduced into the body, they have the potential to seek and destroy cancer cells. Dr. Themeli is a pioneer in this type of immunotherapy and believes that it can significantly improve blood cancer survival rates.
Originally from Patras, Dr. Themeli completed her medical and doctoral training at the University of Patras before moving to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in 2014 for her postdoctoral work. It was during this time that she was awarded the NYSCF – Druckenmiller Fellowship, which supported her research investigating the basic biology of stem-cell-derived T cells and identifying methods for improving their therapeutic properties.
In 2015, Dr. Themeli joined the VUmc Cancer Center and was awarded the Marie Curie Scholarship from the European Union. Just two years later, she was named “Woman of the Year 2017” in the Netherlands. Last week, she attended a ceremony in Athens where she received the Argo Innovation Prize (an award given to Greeks living abroad who excel in their respective fields) in the presence of the President of Greece, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
It is Dr. Themeli’s hope to continue improving CAR-T therapies and expand their use to other types of cancer that have not responded as well to immunotherapies in the past.
“Our group, along with scientists from all over the world, is trying to find solutions to these problems, and I believe that very soon we will have improved results for the treatment with CAR-T and on other types of cancer,” Dr. Themeli said.
Learn more about the NYSCF – Druckenmiller Fellowship Program here.